STOP The "Clean Eating" Craze!
STOP The "Clean Eating" Craze!
I'm giving up eating clean in 2018. "Clean Eating" is taking over the health and fitness world as THE way to get in shape and regain your health.
It seems innocuous enough... clean is good! The word "clean" drums up images of shiny floors, that pinesol smell, and a squeaky clean colon. What's not to love?
But what is clean eating, really?
Google the phrase and you'll find lots of magazine articles on "How To Eat Clean" and "Clean Eating Challenges" but ultimately, there's only a loosely accepted definition.
Fitness Magazine defines clean eating by saying "Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food's pathway between its origin and your plate. At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or "real" foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. However, modern food production has become so sophisticated that simply eating whole foods can be a challenging proposition these days."
I have a few issues with this definition.
First, let's address the number one rule in body composition, energy balance. They state that "Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food's pathway between its origin and your plate. " Here's the thing though, you could eat organic broccoli for every meal, and if you'r taking in more calories than you're burning, you'll gain weight. Simple as that. Granted, there would be a host of other problems with this because I'm fairly certain you wouldn't be able to digest that much broccoli in any single day.
The point remains the same though, there are a lot of people out there putting their faith into the "Clean Eating" movement, which offers no REAL solution to our number one concern regarding weight loss: are we eating too much? If you have unwanted body fat and you're putting in HARD work to try to lose it, it doesn't matter what journey your food took before it got to your plate, if you absorb more of those pure and untainted calories than you need, you'll not be throwing on your skinny jeans anytime soon.
Second, let's talk about how "modern food production has become so sophisticated that simply eating whole foods can be a challenging proposition these days."
I've been in fitness for YEARS and this sentence is one of the most loaded statements I've read. Is modern food production sophisticated? OF COURSE. And, good thing it is, because we don't have to mill our own grains, milk our own cows, or worry about constantly battling terrible bout of food poisoning. Hallelujah!
Sure, you can easily go in and buy a pack of Oreos and a box of mac and cheese at the grocery store, but it is not any more difficult to simply grab a head of broccoli and some chicken breast. The issue is in the education regarding healthy foods, not the availability of those foods, for most of the American population.
There's also a really sad side effect of calling certain eating habits "clean". This automatically insinuates that any other food choices are "unclean" or dirty in some way. Using this language creates a divide. "Clean" is almost synonymous with organic these days. Organic foods cost on average 40% more based on consumer reports. As a population we start to develop this idea that clean eating is expensive, and upper class. Eating healthy starts to become incredibly expensive, but the truth is it really doesn't have to be.
There's a continuum of healthy choices. It's not all good or evil.
Sure, organic broccoli could end up being healthier for you in the long run (but the jury is still out on organic foods making a difference) but conventional broccoli is STILL a far better choice than those Oreos when it comes to nutritional value. With so many Americans overweight and suffering from metabolic diseases we quite literally cannot afford to isolate lower income populations and convince them that eating heathy is out of their budget. Partly because that isn't true, but partly because that's JUST WRONG from an ethical standpoint. I am not the only one who feels this way, for more in depth coverage on the moral and ethical issues check out this article from Vice media.
Now, let's get one thing straight. I'm all for limiting processed foods, eating lots of vegetables, and choosing high quality food options when you can afford it. What I don't like is alienating people who want to be healthy or made up diet fads that don't work.
Yes, "clean eating" is made up. Why? Because there's no evidence (real, scientific research or outcome-based evidence) that simply "eating clean" does a lot for your health. And, why won't it work? It's just too vague to get the job done.
"I'm going to eat clean" is not going to get you loving your body every day. There's plenty of organic sugar on the market, and I hate to break it to you but it will have all the same effects in your body that your regular run of the mill Domino sugar has. Likewise, coconut oil is healthy, but it's still a saturated fatty acid, just like butter. Would you douse your kale in 3 tablespoons of butter and expect it to be good for you? There's a certain balance to choosing these foods,
Want to cut out processed foods and eat more vegetables?
Do a Whole30 and get some actual rules to follow so you have some direction.
Want to lose body fat?
Pay attention to your energy balance and make sure you're burning more than you're taking in.
Want to just generally be healthier and make sure you don't have any nutrient deficiencies?
Aim to eat 5 different colored servings of fruits and veggies a day.
Want to feel really good about yourself but effectively change nothing except how much cash is sitting in your bank account?
So, what's the point?
Well, like I said, I'm giving up "clean eating" in 2018. And, maybe you will too. In the end it all comes down to eating enough food to support your exercise routine (yeah, you've gotta move your body for good health), getting plenty of vegetables, fruits, and protein into your diet, and staying well hydrated. Simple to say, difficult to execute. But, with a little simplicity and guidance, we can all focus on healthy (not clean 😉) eating in 2018!
Ashley is a Pilates instructor and entrepreneur in NYC who specializes in biomechanics and exercise nutrition for women. She uses the science behind exercise physiology to empower her clients to lead healthy, happy lives. Her passion project is writing “The LEAN Life Newsletter” which goes out every Tuesday and focuses on Lifestyle, Exercise, Active recovery, and Nutrition and serves as the backbone for her L.E.A.N. Life online health and fitness programs. She aims to get this information into the hands of as many women as possible so they can feel stronger and more confident in their bodies. For more information head to AshleyBrownPilates.com or @AshleyBrownPilates on instagram, or click here to get on the L.E.A.N. Life List!